Defining Primary Prevention

Defining Primary Prevention

Prevention is “all measures to avoid or reduce the number and severity of illness, accident and disability” (World Health Organization, 1948). It brings together all the actions, attitudes and behaviors that tend to avoid the occurrence of a disease or a health problem and to maintain or improve health. “Primary prevention is defined as the set of measures intended to reduce the incidence of disease, thereby reducing the occurrence of new cases or delay the age of onset” (World Health Organization, 1948 ). At the general population, this type of prevention takes into account individual risk behaviors and social and environmental risks. By acting upstream prevention this prevents or delays the onset of a disease or medical condition. In particular, it uses information from the population, health education, nutrition and improving the environment (World Health Organization, 1984). This prevention requires initially identified with an acceptable level of certainty, the factors that may affect the incidence of disease. Research distinguish risk factors and protective factors.


An American commission on chronic illness proposed in 1957 one of the first definition of prevention in the field of health “all measures to avoid or reduce the number and severity of illness, accident and disability” (Commission on Chronic Illness, 1957). To consider all forms of action to prevent, the World Health Organization to distinguish three categories since 1984 depending on when preventive action is proposed, (1) primary prevention that attempts to avoid occurrence of a disease or health problem, (2) secondary prevention, which aims to halt or delay the progression of a disease, or to reduce the risk of relapse and chronicity and (3) prevention service that occurs after the onset of the disease, which tends to reduce the damage caused by the disease, relapse, recurrence, disability. If other definitions exist in the literature (Bourdillon, 2006; Trivalle, 2002), that of the World Health Organization from 1984 is the most widely accepted.

Public and specific modes of Action

Primary prevention is aimed at (unrecognized patients) “healthy” subjects without disability or life in prison. Secondary prevention targets people is declared sick, disabled or incarcerated or in the process of becoming (eg smokers at risk of cancer people). Tertiary prevention is for people “officially” sick, disabled or incarcerated. The three areas of prevention require more education and population-specific intervention methods in primary prevention, therapy and more individualized in tertiary prevention.

The general message

The old adage “prevention is better than cure” is back in fashion in the West. Alas, it’s not because we know that we do, even if it is a prerequisite. Blog in Health recommends the website of the French National Institute for Prevention and Health Education.

What it means for Health Professionals

Health professionals are encouraged to visit the website of the National Institute for Prevention and Health Education (INPES). The site has a wide range of advice and information resources on primary prevention activities.

What it means for Researchers

To evaluate the effectiveness of a primary prevention is complicated and cumbersome. This scientific approach requires intervention research a large number of participants and long follow-up.

What it means for Policymakers

By acting upstream, primary prevention prevents or delays the onset of a disease or health problem. In particular, it uses information from the population, health education, nutrition and environmental improvement (Flageolet, 2008).


Commission on Chronic Illness (1957). Chronic illness in the United States. Cambridge : Harvard University Press.

Flageolet A (2008). Rapport de mission au profit du gouvernement relative aux disparités territoriales des politiques de prévention sanitaire. Paris : Ministère de la Santé, de la Jeunesse et des Sport et de la Vie Associative.

Haute Autorité de Santé (2011). Développement de la prescription de thérapeutiques non médicamenteuses validées. Paris : HAS Edition.

World Health Organization (1984). Glossaire de la série «santé pour tous». Genève : OMS Editions.

Trivalle, C. (2002). Gérontologie préventive. Paris : Masson.

To reference this Blog en Sante © article.

Ninot G (2014). Definition of primary prevention. Blog en Sante, L13.

© Copyright 2014 Grégory Ninot. All rights reserved.